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Navigating adverse events

Seeing the wood for the trees can be tricky when you are in the middle of a crisis, but according to small business expert and CEO of Fortitude at Work, Leanne Faulkner, adverse events can help define and support future success.

As many small business owners navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ahead for Business team checked in with Leanne to see how she was going and learn from her experience as a business owner who has been through a significant adverse event herself.

Adverse events can include natural disasters, economic downturn or health crises. In Leanne’s case, she felt the full force of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2011 on her highly successful Billie Goat Soap business.

In this interview, she shares how she navigated that time, tips for getting through the dark days, insights on recovery and how to rise again, stronger than ever before.

Q: Hi Leanne, thanks for chatting to Ahead for Business, how are you going right now?

A: To be honest, it feels a bit like déjà vu with the current pandemic. One of the big differences is that unlike the GFC where businesses were impacted in waves and gradually over time, everyone is feeling an impact at the same time. So, there is comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in this challenging period.

Fear and anxiety can be isolating but they can also be a shared experience as there are many people who are feeling the same way. Together that collective connectedness can provide strength and comfort during this time.

Q: What have you been doing to support yourself and your business during this time?

A: One of the first things many small business owners think of when it comes to a crisis or adverse event is logistics, and specifically cash flow, as well as other practical considerations for the operation of their business.

For me, this time round, my first priority was to ask how I am going to care for myself during this time.

I didn’t do this during the GFC and I learnt that one of the most important ways to prepare myself for navigating challenges is to invest in caring for your own mental health and wellbeing.

The journey can be long, fearful and stress ridden as you charter unknown challenges, but what I have found is that those who navigate through that journey well are the business owners that include themselves as a priority as part of their ongoing business strategy.

Q: What does that look like for you?

A: For me, that means getting in a walk every day, rain or sunshine. Exercise helps to reset, establish routine and provide perspective.

It means filling up my cup by continuing study and completing my PhD, focused on the mental health of small business owners.

It also means getting to know my red flags and having someone who I know I can share my concerns with. Having someone listen who understands that there is no expectation for them fix it. Who is just able to be present and listen.

Basically, my mantra is self-care comes first and everything else comes second.

Q: What were some of the biggest fears you came up against when you found yourself tackling an adverse event?

A: That I wasn’t going to be the image of an entrepreneur that was expected.

Of being a failure and not living up to expectations and admitting to others that I had failed.

The fact is failure isn’t failure. Failure is when you don’t pick yourself up and continue onwards or when you don’t learn the lessons in it.

I was desperate to hear someone else say, yes I’m failing. It’s not the end of the world. I will recover and it doesn’t define me. There are not enough people who share those real, honest accounts to help others to learn and grow as well.

Q: What were some of the biggest lessons you learnt from experiencing an adverse event as a small business owner?

A: I am living, breathing evidence that disasters are survivable. I went through a mental health breakdown and I sold my business due to the GFC.

What is amazing to me, is I used to think that I thought I was helping so many by distributing handmade soap and therefore it was really worth doing and so were the sacrifices which came along with it.

However, in sharing my story of how I struggled, what I lost and how I recovered has ended up helping thousands more. Sharing my own personal experiences has encouraged others to speak up and reach out for support.

My biggest lesson was learning that anything is survivable and able to be navigated.

Q: How can small business owners recover from adverse events?

A: If you are finding that a pause has been placed on your business, now could be the time to consider planning for recovery.

Having a business plan in place is great when a business is in operation, but it’s important to consider having a plan for recovery.

Not just a plan for your businesses recovery, but for yourself and what is achievable in increments.

Don’t add pressure to bounce back immediately, do so gradually and have a plan which focuses on resilience as well as investing in your mental health and wellbeing.

Every business should have a financial plan, a marketing plan, a staffing/recruitment plan and it should also have a mental health and wellbeing plan. Because the more mentally healthy and well you are, the more productive your business will be.

Q: Do you have any tips for small business owners who are struggling at the moment?

A: Find someone to listen. I can’t overemphasise the importance of having someone who can listen to you with unconditional positive regard. Because it is important to remember that if you have run a successful business and have been a successful business owner that fact hasn’t changed just because of the occurrence of an unprecedented adverse event.

Invest in what works for you in terms of self-care, such as exercise, eating healthy food and connecting with others while maintaining physical distancing.

The more you invest in your mental health and wellbeing, the more you will be able to creatively adapt and respond to crises and challenges.

It is also important to have a good strategic plan and understanding of cash flow and financials. Just because you haven’t until now, doesn’t mean you can’t change it and reorient to establish a good foundation of future resilience.

Be open and consider new ways to do business. The climate has changed and it opens up opportunities and challenges for many in equal measure, so find your opportunities during this time albeit however small.

Above all else, reach out. There is always help available and please remember you are never, ever alone.

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